Differences emerge in Malaysia's opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance ahead of Melaka polls

Democratic Action Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng (front, third from left) together with supporters from Melaka posing with a Pakatan Harapan logo.
Democratic Action Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng (front, third from left) together with supporters from Melaka posing with a Pakatan Harapan logo.PHOTO: LIM GUAN ENG/FACEBOOK

KUALA LUMPUR - Differences have emerged in Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition over a unified logo and a proposal to renew ties with political veteran Mahathir Mohamad.

The tensions are largely between PH's largest component members: the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), headed by opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim, and the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the ethnic Chinese dominated political entity that currently commands the single largest bloc of elected MPs in the Lower House of the federal Parliament.

Politicians from both PH parties have worked hard to settle their differences in closed-door negotiations in recent months. 

But the differences have now been brought out into the open by the political tumult in Melaka that led to the dissolution of the state assembly and a fresh election to be held next month.

In a recent interview with The Straits Times, Datuk Seri Anwar acknowledged that the issue over a unified logo was a source of contention among members in the opposition coalition, which also includes Parti Amanah Negara and another Sabah-based entity called UPKO.

"There are differing views, I will have to manage this. But at the end it will be one logo," he said.

Last week, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng jumped the gun and declared that his party would use the untested PH logo for the upcoming state polls in Melaka.

The move has ruffled feathers among Mr Anwar's circle of advisers who have griped that the DAP was trying to force PKR into conceding on the logo issue.

The PH component parties used the PKR logo in the 2018 general election because it was not registered as a political entity when the polls was called. Mr Anwar said this, the PH logo and individual party ones were all options to be considered.

In recent days, senior DAP politicians have also trained their guns at the PKR leadership for allegedly courting the former state assemblymen who caused the collapse of the Melaka government.

DAP leaders have warned that fielding these politicians as opposition candidates in the state election would undermine PH's credibility among voters.

"There is confusion and there are differences (in PH). It is best we deal with this now before the general election," said a senior DAP official, who acknowledged the growing rift in the coalition. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Malaysian politics has been in a state of ferment since the May 2018 general election. The country has had three premiers and three governments since then and there is a general view that the logjam can only be resolved with a fresh general election, which is not due until mid-2023 but some expect it to be held early next year.

A recent memorandum of understanding signed between Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and opposition leaders, including Mr Anwar, however stipulates that Parliament will not be dissolved before July 31 next year.

The upcoming state polls in Melaka on Nov 20, touted by both sides of the political divide as a crucial dress rehearsal ahead of the country's 15th general election since independence in 1957, is already shaping up to be a messy affair.

PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim acknowledged that the issue over a unified logo was a source of contention among members in the opposition coalition. PHOTO: ANWAR IBRAHIM’S OFFICE

Not only are there tensions in the opposition coalition, but the testy ties between the two key parties in the current government - Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) - worsened in recent days with the announcement by the leaders of both parties that all cooperation between them will be suspended in the Melaka polls. That will set the stage for multi-cornered contests.

PH politicians believe that the opposition will benefit from the growing friction between Umno and Bersatu, both of which draw support from the country's ethnic dominant Malay community. But PH will not be seen as united if it fails to decide on a common logo.

PH secured more than 47 per cent of the popular vote in the general election in 2018, while the long-established Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition received just over 36 percent, its worst-ever electoral performance.

The unprecedented result saw BN lose power for the first time since independence and the PH taking over in Putrajaya with Tun Dr Mahathir at the helm.

The DAP is insisting that the PH brand should now be tested in the Melaka polls in preparation for the general election, and has floated the idea in private talks that the coalition should consider renewing its ties with Dr Mahathir in preparation for the national polls.

But PKR politicians argue that the PH brand became tainted after the government it led collapsed in late February last year when several politicians from PKR defected together with the majority of the Bersatu-elected MPs.

They went on to form a new government as part of another coalition with the Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia and other smaller parties that was supported by Umno.

What is more, the PH brand is also associated with former premier Mahathir, whom PKR party leaders blame for the coalition's troubles because he failed to honour a pre-election pact to hand over the premiership to party president Anwar.

Politicians from both the PKR and DAP agree that PH will decide soon on the logo issue, but they caution that much will depend on the outcome of the Melaka state polls.

"If we do well, the logo that will be decided will be seen as the right decision. But if the reverse happens, the blame game will start," said another senior DAP official.